Posted in 1990-1999, 2000-2009, 2010-2019, Ranking

Pixar Films: Ranked

When you think of animation studios that combines superb animation and compelling well-rounded characters who come in all sorts of lifeforms, there aren’t many studios out there who do it better than Pixar Animation Studios. Ever since they released their first film to the world in 1995, they have consistently crafted breath-taking and emotional stories that almost never fail to tug on the heartstrings of audience members everywhere. Furthermore, it would be fair to say that Pixar revolutionised the animation industry, as their debut feature film was the first entirely computer animated featured film. In the years since, the studio has only gone from strength to strength, crafting some of the finest animated films to have graced the big screen over the last three decades.

Earlier this year, the studio celebrated its 35th birthday this year. And in honour of that occasion, and with their new film Luca now out on Disney+, I’m going to take a look at all of their feature films that they have released thus far, and rank them all from worst to best. To Infinity and Beyond!

23. Cars 2

The only film on this list that is truly terrible. Was anyone really asking for a sequel to a film that, even at the time, was one of the studio’s lesser efforts? To give the film the tiniest minuscule of credit, it did try to do something different with an international espionage side plot, that felt like something out of James Bond or Mission Impossible. However, this is decidedly ruined by numerous jokes that seemed to be primarily aimed at younger audiences. But, by far and away, the biggest misstep is the filmmakers’ baffling decision to make Tow Mater a central part of this premise. As a supporting character, he was just about bearable, but as the main character, the hazard lights should have been blinking from the word go. Even with Sir Michael Caine lending his voice to a British secret agent, that is not nearly enough to save this severely lacklustre sequel from its place on the scrapheap.

22. Cars

Speaking of the studio’s lesser efforts, comes the first film in a franchise that somehow spawned two sequels. Sentient cars seems an extremely bizarre concept on paper, but in the hands of Pixar, it just about worked. By this point, the studio hadn’t really put a foot wrong, but it had to come to a point when one film that didn’t quite hit those lofty standards, and Cars is very much that film. It is your average run-of-the-mill story about an egotistical character, in this case, Lightning McQueen, who is brought back into the slow lane when he comes across a down-on-its-luck town. The film is not nearly as memorable as those that came before it, yet, it does the of keeping you entertained. Though this is one of those films that, like this film’s sequel definitely felt as though it was geared more towards the younger generation.

21. Monsters University

Before they became best friends and co-workers at Monsters Inc, there was a time before Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan were rivals, as they learnt the ropes of how to become a top scarer at Monsters University. This uni’s modus operandi is to teach budding young monsters how to become a good scarer, so that they’re ready for life at Monsters Inc. The only prequel that the studio has thus far created, it is fun and enjoyable enough, with some good ideas in concept. Unfortunately, while seeing Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to their iconic roles is a joy, the plot, and the majority of the supporting characters, are pretty forgettable.

20. Cars 3

After the horror story that was this film’s predecessor, the bar was set very low for the third adventure featuring Lightning McQueen. Thankfully, this was a step up from Cars 2, but then again, that wasn’t too hard. The film takes the decision to stick more closely to the first entry into the franchise, where instead of looking at McQueen’s early journey into the world of racing, it goes the opposite direction. When a younger and newer race car starts to compete and become a serious threat to McQueen’s chances of success, McQueen has to reinvent himself to stay relevant. There’s plenty of familiar tropes found in lots of sports movies here, but it’s decent enough entertainment, and easily the best film in the franchise.

19. The Good Dinosaur

It’s common knowledge that several million years ago, an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. But what might have happened had that asteroid instead missed the planet and dinosaurs continued to roam the Earth? When he gets separated from his family, young dinosaur Arlo must find his way home, and finds himself accompanied by a Neanderthal human child whom Arlo must try to reunite with his family. The Good Dinosaur boasts some spectacular animation, but given that just about every other film on this list also boasts stellar animation, that isn’t nearly enough. The film has a sweet sentiment about the importance of one’s family, but when you look at the film, and certain events that take place, it’s hard to not see the very obvious similarities between this and a certain Disney film involving lions.

18. Brave

After seeing Disney Animation Studios’ great success with the Princess genre over the years, Pixar clearly fancied taking a leaf out of their sister studio’s book, with their own version of a Princess tale. The results were decidedly a mixed bag. What Brave has going in its favour is the feisty, flaming haired protagonist Merida, a Princess who is a dab hand with a bow and arrow and definitely does not conform to what society expects from her, which puts her on a collision course with her mother. The big creative direction that the film chooses to go in, is an odd choice, and while it does provide for some laughs, and a touching look at the relationship between mother and daughter, it sadly feels like too much of a creative misstep.

17. A Bug’s Life

If you’re a studio that absolutely revolutionises the animation industry with your very first film, whatever your next film happens to be instantly has an uphill task to match those lofty heights. Following in the wake Toy Story was always going to be a tough act for any film to follow, but A Bug’s Life has plenty of things going for it that make it a strong film in its own right. The story about about an underdog (or should that be under-ant?) who has to prove his worth to his people has admittedly been done numerous times. However, there’s lots to like about lead protagonist Flik, as well as the leader of the colony Princess Atta. Additionally, there’s plenty of humour to be found with the colourful troupe of Circus bugs that enter on the scene to defeat those dastardly grasshoppers.

16. Finding Dory

After playing her part to reunite Marlin with Nemo in Finding Nemo, for the sequel to Pixar’s adventure through the big ocean blue, the loveable Blue Tang Dory became the centrepiece of the sequel. Which, thankfully, was not just a cynical cash grab. When Dory remembers something of her past that could lead her to her long lost parents, she sets off on another adventure in a bid to reunite with them. There aren’t any appearances from Bruce and co, and those pesky (yet hilarious) seagulls are only given the most fleeting appearances. Though in their place, are an equally amusing collection of characters, including a hilarious pair of sea lions and a grumpy but loveable octopus. Note to Cars 2, this is how you take a supporting character from one film, and successfully utilise them as a main character in a sequel film that is not extremely annoying.

15. Soul

After going deep into the emotions of the emotions that define who we are as people for his last film, Pete Docter went one step further with his next film. Taking a deep psychological look at humanity, the essence of what makes us who we are and our existence as human beings, and asking what is it we were put on this Earth to do? Focusing on Joe Gardner, the very first Pixar film to feature a Black lead character, who is deeply passionate about jazz music. After suffering a fatal accident right after landing his dream gig, Joe ends up at the Great Beyond, where souls who have lived their lives ascend.

Convinced though he has more to give, he ends up at The Great Before, where fledgling souls get their personalities before heading to Earth. The film is bold in its attempts to tell a very existential story, that will surely speak to anyone who has a passion for something, and for that it is to be commended. However, the film lacks that emotional punch that so many films before it have. Furthermore, what positive steps forward it makes for representation is hindered somewhat by a problematic creative decision that could have very easily been avoided.

14. Incredibles 2

Another sequel a long time in the making. The Incredibles was a game changer for the superhero genre, as it came out at a time when superheroes and superhero films were not quite the dominating force that they have since become. Hence, the sequel to Pixar’s answer to Marvel’s first family wasn’t quite as revolutionary. Nevertheless, it proved to be a worthy successor to the ingenuity of the first film. It took a risk by picking up straight after the events of the first film, but it was a risk that paid off. With superheroes still unable to come out of hiding, a corporation offers superheroes the chance to regain the public’s trust, which has Elastigirl front and centre, leaving Mr Incredible on parenting duties. And little baby Jack Jack almost steals the entire show.

13. Toy Story 4

After the third instalment of Pixar’s most lucrative franchise wrapped everything up in a beautiful and emotional manner, questions would have undoubtedly been to whether there was really any need for a fourth entry into this franchise. Would this be a worthwhile sequel that earnt its place, or a cynical cash grab of the nostalgia of fans who grew up with these characters? Thankfully, it was definitely the former as it earnt its place as a worthy continuation of this beloved franchise. While the majority of the old gang were side-lined, the film tells a story worth telling, most notably for Woody as he has an important decision to make, after having been reunited with Bo Peep. While it was a shame to see the rest of the old gang side-lined, the film introduces a bright and memorable collection of new characters including the voice talents of Keanu Reeves, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, and yes, even a loveable plastic fork named Forky.

12. Monsters, Inc.

Every night before bed as children, we may have been told of a story by our parents about the supposed monster that was hiding under our beds. Well what if there was, and these monsters were just looking to utilise the screams of terrified children as a means to power the city that the monsters live in? On that description, that does sound completely terrifying, but leave it to Pixar to take that premise and turn it into a winning formula. Focusing on the small and not very intimidating Mike Wazowski and his best friend, the much more intimidating James P. Sullivan. These two are together are the top scarers at Monsters Inc. Everything is going well for them, this is until an adorable little child named Boo comes along to challenge the perception that these monsters have about human children. Much like Woody and Buzz, what makes Monsters, Inc. roar is the winning dynamic between Mike and Sully, which is no small part due to the excellent voice work of Billy Crystal and John Goodman.

11. Onward

Imagine a world where the wonder of wizardry and magic, co-exist with the modern technology that we have in the world today. When two brothers receive a gift from their late father that they barely got to know before he passed away, they set off on a magical quest to bring him back to life for a day via some magical wizardry. The ensuing adventure is extremely funny and exciting, but the heart of the film lies in the relationship dynamic between the brothers (wonderfully voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) that really pulls on the heartstrings. Even in the face of such devastating personal tragedy, such as the loss of a parent at a young age, the love and support that one can find from a brother can be an emotional and unbreakable bond, especially for an older sibling that they looked up to and relied on to get them through those difficult years. This film wonderfully celebrates that.

And so we come to the top 10, and believe me when I say that ranking these movies was extremely hard. As in all honestly, all these films are as close to perfect as a film can get, but as this is a ranking list, they must be ranked, and so on we go with….

10. Ratatouille

There’s some extremely satisfying about tucking into a delicious meal that was lovingly prepared by someone. Yet it takes a certain kind of skill to take ingredients of a dish and turn it into a culinary masterpiece. We may go to fancy restaurants to have the pleasure of the finest chefs in the world serve up a delicious meal. So the idea of one of those chefs being a rat that has a real culinary talent, sounds like a repulsive idea in real life. Yet, under the vision of Brad Bird, it works an absolute treat.

Inspired by his hero Gusteau, Remy dreams of becoming a world renowned chef. The problem is that given who he is, it seems an impossible goal. This is until he meets Linguini, a bumbling garbage boy at a nearby restaurant who works with Remy to help them both achieve their goals.  It may be a familiar story of not being afraid to be who you are, but with under Bird’s direction, and a wonderful Michael Giacchino score, the end result is Chef’s kiss, a five star delight. Bonus points for the extremely clever pun in its title.

9. Toy Story 2

Given the phenomenal success that Toy Story enjoyed, a sequel was bound to happen at some point, and it really set the benchmark for the studio on how to craft a sequel that goes very very close to matching its predecessor. When Woody is toy-napped by a collector, he finds out he was once the star of a much beloved children’s TV show, along with a handful of new toys, namely Jessie the Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye the Horse. With plans for Woody and his new friends to be sold to a museum in Japan, Woody’s loyalty is torn in two directions, between his new gang, or being loyal to his beloved owner Andy.

Picking up on the first film’s themes of what is the true purpose of a toy, whilst continuing to explore Woody’s relationships with his friends, both old and new. The film is once again filled with plenty of heart, emotion (see Jessie’s When She Loved Me moment) and brilliantly humorous moments, such as the traffic cone sequence, and of course the wonderful references to The Empire Strikes Back. And to think, originally, the film was planned to be a straight to home video release!

8. Up

There’s no way anyone can talk about this film without talking about the opening 10 minutes. Without a single word of dialogue, and just that beautiful score from Michael Giacchino, the heart-breaking montage captures blissful young love and marriage, before transitioning into the devastation of miscarriage, and the sobering fact of mortality. And that’s just the first ten minutes!

The opening montage is undoubtedly the film’s strongest asset, and if someone makes it through that montage without sobbing their eyes out, I would genuinely worry that their soul is missing. The ensuing adventure that follows after the montage is also extremely entertaining. Focusing on an elderly Carl who’s determined to fulfil his last wish to his beloved Ellie by fulfilling their dream to relocate to the picturesque Paradise Falls in South America. Throw in an eccentric collection of creatures, the plucky young Wilderness Explorer Russell, and the late Christopher Plummer in the role of the villain, and you have the only film on this list that secured a Best Picture nomination!

7. Finding Nemo

The ocean, a vast, deep, dark, terrifying, and seemingly never-ending place. It’s not the sort of place that you would want to have to venture across to try and find your son. However, that’s exactly the task that clownfish Marlin faces. As a single father due to a traumatic incident in his past, he’s overly-protective of his son Nemo. However, after he’s fish-napped by scuba divers he must venture across the ocean to reunite with him. Thankfully, for him he’s not alone in this task as he’s accompanied by Dory, the forgetful Blue Tang fish.

Pixar’s animation is almost always on point, but the work that is accomplished to capture the depth and vastness of the ocean is an extraordinary accomplishment. As well as Marlin and Dory, the film is filled with an eclectic bunch of characters, from friendly(ish) sharks, to super laid-back sea turtles, to those ominous seagulls (mine!). The film demonstrates the unshakable love that a parent has for their child, and one who will stop at nothing to be reunited with them, the love of a parent who will stop at nothing to be reunited with their child. But most of all, you must remember: “Fish are friends, not food!”

6. WALL-E

It says a lot about any film that if it can absorb its audience into the world its created, all without any character uttering a single word of dialogue, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, that is an extremely impressive achievement. In the far future, Planet Earth has been long abandoned by humanity due to excessive consumerism and climate change. One of the last beings left to clean what has been left behind is a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class robot (or WALL-E).

This bot’s existence is a very lonely one, until a very sleek futuristic looking robot named EVE shows up, looking for signs of life on the surface of the planet. As the two central characters, WALL-E and EVE sharing such heart-warming chemistry, the film is proof that any love story, even if it is one about two robots, can melt your heart if done well. Despite being released in 2008, the film has only become more relevant in recent years with the acceleration of climate change that represents an existential threat to our planet, and our very way of life.

5. The Incredibles

Cast your minds back to 2004, a time before the landscape of superheroes and Hollywood was forever changed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the gigantic money making behemoth that it is today. Superhero films were being made, but they didn’t quite enjoy the popularity they do now. So in many ways writer/director Brad Bird was ahead of the curve, with this thrilling superhero flick, that one could argue is the best un-official Fantastic Four film that has been made to date.

When superheroes are declared illegal and must adopt regular lives, the lives of the Parr family are forever changed. This is until Bob (AKA Mr Incredible) gets a chance to don his superhero outfit for a secret mission, in the hopes that it will enable supers, like his family to come out of retirement. Though behind the scenes, the dastardly plans of arguably Pixar’s best villain Syndrome, force this super-family to suit up to save the world. Thanks to its exhilarating action scenes, an entertaining dynamic between the titular family and a fantastic array of supporting characters, this is one of the best superhero films ever made. Incredible by name, incredible by nature.

3= Toy Story 3

It is a rare feat for a third film in a franchise that can lay a legitimate claim to be the best film in the franchise, but it’s a testament to the magic that director Lee Unkrich brought to the table for this entry into the studios’ most successful franchise, that no one could really argue if anyone said this is the best of the franchise.

After an 11 year absence, Woody, Buzz and all of the gang returned for what was meant to be the last hurrah for these beloved characters. With Andy now heading off to college, having long moved on from playing with his toys, they are all left are left with a heart-breaking dilemma as to what to do. Believing that they’ll be better off at a day care where toys are constantly played with find themselves, life appears to be rosy for them, until it decidedly isn’t. This culminates in a thrilling Shawshank Redemption-esque prison break, and the hilariousness of Spanish Buzz. And to cap it all off, not one but two extremely tear-jerking moments that should have had anyone who grew up with this franchise sobbing their eyes out.

3= Toy Story

The one that started it all, and the film that made history as the first fully computer animated film, and it certainly set the bar very high for the franchise and for animated films in general. We may have always wondered as kids what happens to our toys when we leave the room, what if they came alive? Working on that genius premise of the lives our toys live when we’re not at home, the film is filled to the brim with an array of colourful characters, and the studio arguably created their most memorable characters in the lovable cowboy doll Woody (voiced wonderfully by Tom Hanks) who gets jealous when his owner Andy, gets a shiny new toy, Buzz Lightyear, to usurp him as Andy’s favourite toy.

The lovable nature of Woody may or may not be down to the man that lends his voice to him, but just about every character here is memorable, and the dynamic between Woody and Buzz cemented these two as one of the most iconic duos in cinematic history. Even decades and multiple films later, the one that started it all off, is still one of the best films that Pixar has made.

2. Inside Out

The human brain is a wonderful thing, and as we go about our lives, the emotions we feel at any given moment, make us who we are. But what if the emotions in our brains also had emotions? Focusing on the five emotions in the head of 11 year old Riley as she is uprooted from her cosy Minnesota life to California, and the adjustment that she, and her emotions go through during this time. The premise of this film is quite simply, from the mind of Pete Docter, is a work of absolute genius. Furthermore, it matches that extraordinary innovation with an extremely witty, and emotional story.

Furthermore, with one of Pixar’s most memorable voice cast including Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black as Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger respectively. Each actor perfectly brings their emotion to life in a hilarious and emotional manner. While these five are great, one must not forgetting Richard Kind’s beautiful performance as Bing Bong. It’s a film that definitely feels more geared to older audiences with some of its ideas, whilst serving an important reminder to us all that while we may dislike feeling sad, it is acceptable to let that emotion overwhelm you, because it’s an emotion that plays an integral role in our lives.

1. Coco

As this list has demonstrated, Pixar have no shortage of incredible films that are filled with beautiful storytelling, excellent characters, and absolutely stunning animation. However, on a personal level, nothing has captured the beauty, and the wonder of their work, quite like this beautiful look at the culture of Mexico and the celebration of Día de Muertos, or The Day of the Dead festival. For young Miguel, he aspires to be a musician and play for the world, but due to an incident in his family’s past, music is outright banned. Determined to not let his family’s hatred of music stop him from pursuing his ambition, he mistakenly finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and must get home safely before it’s too late.

Touching on so many deep themes including, family, music, grief and the need to remember loved ones after they’ve moved on from this world, it’s all just captured with so much beauty and emotion. Pixar’s animation is often just absolutely mesmeric to look at, however the animation here, particularly in the Land of the Dead, is some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. And for a film where music is such an integral part of the story, the music is so immaculately beautiful and emotional. Just typing the words “Remember Me” is just making me want to break down crying. I genuinely don’t think I’ve cried quite as much whilst watching a film at the cinema, as I did with Coco. I adored this film so much but what makes it hit even harder is that just a week or so after seeing this film, my grandmother (the only grandparent I ever knew) passed away. Every time I watch this film, and hear those beautiful lyrics, I always think of her and my late mother. For these reasons, Coco holds such a special place in my heart and it is my favourite Pixar film.

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And that concludes my ranking for each and every Pixar film, thank you so very much for reading, especially if you read all the way through! What did you think of my list? Do you agree or disagree my choices? Please comment below and let me know.

You can connect with me on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d, cos you’ve always got a friend in me!

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Onward (2020)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Onward – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer

Director: Dan Scanlon

Synopsis: After receiving a gift in the shape of a magical staff, two young brothers set off an exciting quest to discover if the power of magic could give them one last day with their late father….

Review: A world steeped in fantasy is something that human beings seem to be intrinsically drawn to because regrettably they are worlds that we will never get to experience for ourselves. Perhaps this is why stories set in places such as Middle Earth have that everlasting appeal. But what if you took a modern day metropolis and mixed in some fantasy elements, and add in a society that has consigned such elements to the past be just as enthralling? Thanks to the brilliant wizards at Pixar, the answer to that is a resounding yes.

In the town of New Mushroomton, where magical beings have very much settled for a life of the ordinary routine, reside the Lightfoot brothers, Barley (Pratt) and Ian (Holland) living with their mother Laurel (Louis-Dreyfus). Barley is the typical emo/grunge type who’s just a little bit too much into into his fantasy board games, who pines for a return to the bygone fantastical era. Meanwhile, Ian is someone who isn’t quite sure of himself yet. As a gift from their late father, they’re given a staff that was not to be opened until Ian’s 16th birthday. When they discover the staff has magical capabilities, the two brothers set off on a quest to discover if the magical staff could be used to bring their late father back to life for one day only.

Having spent the last few years mostly focused on sequels, it’s always exciting to see the Pixar Brain Trust turn their creative minds into something fresh and original. As their previous films such as Inside Out and Coco demonstrate, when creating original content is usually when they strike gold. Yet again, their streak continues as Onward is further proof that they still have that magic touch, quite literally. As the two brothers at the centre of this quest, the voice work of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt is exceptional. Due to the strength of the voice work, the brotherly relationship that these two have immediately comes to the fore, and it helps to flesh both of them out as layered characters that you can empathise with.

The argument could definitely be made that there’s perhaps a formulaic nature to this story of two siblings going on a quest to establish and develop a great understanding between themselves. However, the screenplay by Scanlon and co-written by Jason Headley and Keith Bunin tell it in a manner that brilliantly utilises the modern aspects of our society, and simultaneously the elements of a fantasy world to drive the story forward. This also provides scope for them to brilliantly weave some humour, into what is yet another emotional story from this studio that has an everlasting knack to tug on your heartstrings.

With so much focus being on the brothers and their quest, it does mean that the supporting characters, such as their mother Laurel and a legendary former magical creature (Octavia Spencer), are relegated to sideline roles. However, the main quest and its impactful messages of the significance of brotherhood, will certainly not be lost on those who grew up with a brother in their lives. Even more so for those who have a brother that they look up to, and whose support when growing up can be of immeasurable value as they reach the adult years of their life.

Bolstered by excellent voice work, and a humorous blend of modern and fantasy ensure that those wizards at Pixar produce yet another magical and touching piece of storytelling.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Lion King (2019)

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The Lion King (2019) – Film Review

Cast: Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Jon Favreau

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the story of the king of a pride of lions, who prepares his son to become the future king, while the King’s brother plots to usurp the throne for himself.

Review: It is unquestionably, one of the most iconic openings to a film ever. The sun rises, and the unmistakable intro to The Circle of Life starts playing. The 1994 version of The Lion King remains to this day, one of the finest animated films ever made. Hence with Disney seemingly intent on remaking its entire animated back catalogue, Jon Favreau, after going into one Jungle with his live action reinterpretation of The Jungle Book, this time goes into the mighty jungle, where the lions sleep tonight.

After working wonders with Jungle Book, Favreau once again produces some visual magic with the recreation of these animals and the habitats in which they dwell. It all looks and feels as though the film was shot somewhere on the blessed plains of Africa. There’s not much deviation in terms of the story, as it sticks closely to its animated predecessor, as young Simba (JD McCrary) is being prepared by his father Mufasa (voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones) to rule the Pride Lands one day. However, in the shadows, the King’s dastardly brother Scar (Ejiofor) is secretly scheming, with his hyena chums, to depose Mufasa and seize the throne for himself.

Given that the animated film ran at just shy of 90 minutes, Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, have tweaked certain elements of the story to make it a couple of hours. There are some alterations to some of the dialogue, and some extra scenes have been added. However, it is by and large, the story you know and love. Much of the original’s music and songs have been recreated, but the results are decidedly mixed. Most regrettably though is the fact that there’s a serious dearth of emotion with the film’s more emotional, heart-breaking moments (if you have seen the original, you know the ones). It just goes to show that while something may well work in animation, it doesn’t always translate perfectly to “live action.”

Apart from James Earl Jones, no one else from the animated film reprise their roles, which does help the film stand on its own four paws, to a certain extent. The standouts of the new additions are Seth Rogen’s Pumba and Billy Eichner’s Timon who, as they did in the animated film, give the film an injection of much needed humour. Though they have strong support in that department from John Oliver’s Zazu, who gives his own snarky, hilarious interpretation of the little Hornbill. Donald Glover and Beyoncé give solid leading performances as Simba and Nala, but disappointingly, no one really outshines anyone from the animated film. Though Chiwetel Ejiofor comes close with his very intimidating interpretation of the villainous Scar.

The trouble with these films is that no matter what they do, they are always going to be compared with their animated counterparts. This can be a problem for this film when its animated counterpart is cinematic perfection. Yet, even if one has (somehow) never seen the 1994 flick, there’s still enjoyment to be had, even if it all feels a bit hollow. For those who were born in the 1990s and grew up loving the animated film, they probably won’t feel the love for this re-telling. In that case, Hakuna Matata, because the original animated film, is and always will be, a classic.

Visually stunning, but even with a super talented voice cast, a lack of emotional connection to these photo-realistic characters prevents this re-imagining from roaring to those great heights set by its predecessor.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Toy Story 4 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Jordan Peele, Keegan Michael Key, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks

Director: Josh Cooley

Synopsis: When Bonnie brings a new toy named Forky home, the new toy is unsure of himself and when he gets lost in an amusement park, Woody and the gang set out to save their friend.

Review: “So long, partner” as those words were uttered by everyone’s favourite rootin’ tootin’ cowboy Woody at the end of Toy Story 3, it was the perfect ending to a near perfect trilogy, or so we thought. Amid the waterworks that many audiences likely experienced at the time, we were led to believe it was the final bow for Woody and the gang. Yet those folks at Pixar clearly had other ideas, and while the news of a fourth film was greeted with initial scepticism, Pixar once again proved that they still have that magic touch.

In the years since Toy Story 3, Woody has very much fallen down the pecking order among the gang, with new owner Bonnie preferring to fill her playtime with the other toys. This is until Bonnie makes a new toy out of a fork, and appropriately dubs him “Forky.” It doesn’t take long for this little utensil becomes Bonnie’s most valued possession and so Woody takes it upon himself to look after him and teach Forky what it means to be a toy. Though matters are complicated when Forky gets lost in an amusement park, and Woody decides to go after him in an attempt to bring him back to Bonnie.

With each of the previous three films, they all developed the narrative in a significant manner. New, and memorable toys were introduced, and the toys themselves were put in emotionally investing predicaments, situations where the audience could relate to the dilemmas these toys were going through. This time around, though it is a it’s a story that does merit being told, it’s doesn’t quite feel as well developed as its predecessors, nor as emotionally charged as the three films that came before it. Though once again, Woody is very much at the centre of this new adventure, as is a very different Bo Peep, who makes a welcome return to the franchise.

Though Bo’s return is a welcome one, Woody’s old gang of toys such as Buzz, Jessie, Ham, Slinky and the Potato Heads are given very little to do and so they are frustratingly sidelined. However, this gives Woody and Bo a chance to rekindle an old friendship, whilst letting a new crop of toys to take centre stage. Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, bring the hilarity you would expect from them as a fluffy duck and bunny respectively. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves lends his charm and talents to the super cool Duke Caboom, a toy who’s clearly not shy of charisma or confidence, and who loves to strike a pose. It’s these three new additions that give the film bulk of the laughs, with Key and Peele’s comedy background definitely coming to the fore.

To follow in the wake of what Pixar achieved all those years ago, was always going to be a tall order. Though the themes that have been at the heart of this franchise from the very first time we met Woody and the gang all those years ago remain very much present in this new adventure. There are elements of this story that feel a little underdeveloped, and consequently they don’t quite recapture those glorious highs of the first trilogy. Going back to this franchise could have backfired, but as they so often do, Pixar reached for the sky to give those who grew up with these toys another worthwhile, immaculately animated film that earns its place in the Toy Story toy-box.

It doesn’t pack the emotional punch of its predecessors, but with a story worth telling and a delightful mix of old and new characters alike, you’ll be glad to go to Infinity and Beyond with these guys all over again.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Aladdin (2019)

Image is property of Disney

Aladdin (2019) – Film Review

Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen

Director: Guy Ritchie

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the 1992 animated classic in which a street urchin is sent by a nefarious vizier to retrieve a magical lamp that contains an all powerful genie…

Review: In many ways, it feels like someone at Disney was almost given the powers of a magical genie themselves. One of their wishes would have been to make the studio lots of money, simply by remaking all their animated back catalogue. Hence, the Disney live action remake train magic carpet has now flown its way to the world of Agrabah and to the story of everyone’s favourite kind hearted street urchin.

With their first live action adaptation this year, Disney was forced into making a few significant alterations. Here though, they have taken the decision not to tamper with things too much. We meet Aladdin (Massoud) an orphaned street urchin who routinely steals items to get by. Though when he meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Scott) he falls head over heels in love and strives to win her heart. All the while the villainous Jafar (Kenzari) sends Aladdin to capture a magical lamp in which an all powerful genie will grant its master these wishes three, which Jafar plans to use for nefarious purposes.

Of all the directors in the world Disney could have hired to direct a live action Aladdin film, Guy Ritchie right away feels like an odd choice. The direction Ritchie takes is so unremarkable that it feels like almost anyone could have directed this film and no one would be any the wiser. Stylistically, there’s no risks taken, it’s all very colourful, but nothing stands out. It’s all very unremarkable, which, like with Dumbo feels like a mistake, as there could have been an opportunity to utilise the director’s talents to give these live action films a voice of their own and to really justify their existence. Otherwise, it just feels like the sole purpose of these live action remakes is to just make the studio money.

He might have been the source of much ridicule and scorn in the build up to the film’s release, but to his credit Will Smith actually does a decent job in the role of the Genie. Though Robin Williams’s take on the character will always be iconic, Smith’s efforts to make the character his own are valiant. He’s by far and away the main source of laughter in the film as he tries to get Aladdin to be a suitable match for Princess Jasmine. Though he is basically playing himself, he’s, by far and away, the main source of laughter in the film. Naomi Scott holds her own as Princess Jasmine as she makes an effort to assert herself from the constraints that the society places on women. Though, her chemistry with Massoud’s Aladdin isn’t the best and unfortunately Massoud doesn’t have the charisma required to be a leading man, likewise for Kenzari’s portrayal of Jafar, who is just extremely one dimensional and bland.

The dialogue can feel a little bit wooden at times. There is a decent attempt made to recreate the wonderful songs of the original, and though they are well done, they just don’t live up to the quality of the music that the animated film captured. No expense was spared when it came to the production design, nor the costumes as both are lavish but unfortunately this is just isn’t enough to breathe new life into this story. You could have all the wishes in the world but not even the most powerful of genies would be able to prevent this live action remake from failing to live live up to its animated predecessor.

Splendid production design and costumes, and the Genie was thankfully not the horror story we feared it would be, but a poor villain and some stilted dialogue ensure that this is not a whole new world you’ll want to revisit any time soon.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dumbo (2019)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Tim Burton Productions

Dumbo – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

Director: Tim Burton

Synopsis: When an elephant in the care of a struggling circus gives birth, the young creature is born with rather large ears. When it’s discovered that he can fly, the circus makes him its newest attraction to turn around its fortunes…

Review: It is very hard not to look at most of these live action re-imaginings of classic animated Disney films of yesteryear as nothing more than cynical cash grabs. For some of these films, you look at them and just think, there is no reason for these films to be remade. However, in the case of Dumbo, since the original film came out over seventy years ago, a remake does seem warranted.  However, with three live action remakes set to grace the big screen this year, Disney is only just getting started, and everyone’s favourite big eared elephant is the first one in its sights.

It is 1919, and Holt (Farrell) has just come home from the First World War, a war that has taken a heavy toll on him. In his absence, his kids Millie (Parker) and Joe (Hobbins) have been enduring a difficult time, with their circus, led by Max Medici (DeVito) really falling on hard times. However an opportunity to revive their ailing fortunes presents itself with the arrival of an adorable young elephant, who happens to be born with unusually large ears. Initially the subject of much derision and ridicule, most notably from Medici, this turns to awe when it’s revealed that this young creatures’s ears give him the ability to fly. This soon attracts the attention of V. A. Vandevere (Keaton), the owner of a much bigger circus/theme park.

Cuteness overload…

Given that humans didn’t feature in the original, and that the original film was just over an hour, Ehren Kruger’s screenplay has to expand on the source material. As such the human characters become the main focus of the film, and not the titular little elephant. Given that they’re the focus of the plot, the screenplay tries to give the humans something substantial to work with, and the results are mixed. DeVito is on reliably entertaining form as Medici, but it’s Holt’s daughter Millie who steals the spotlight as she is the most fleshed out character. She is a very strong willed young woman who has a keen interest in science, as well as taking care of Dumbo and helping him adapt to circus life, alongside her brother.

Parker’s performance shows that she has inherited those acting chops from her mother Thandie Newton. By contrast, none of the other human characters are really given much development, despite some of the stellar names in the cast. Michael Keaton’s character especially feels really out of place, with an accent so peculiar it’s hard to fathom what accent it is or why he’s speaking in that manner. One quick glance at the filmography of Tim Burton, and you would quickly realise that his imagination as a director is as dark and eccentric as they come. With that said, he doesn’t seem to be the most natural choice to bring Dumbo’s story to a new generation. Given the target market of the film, there’s obviously nothing as macabre or as freaky that Burton’s imagination has previously brought to the big screen.

Though, as one might expect with Burton, there are some dark undertones. Yet the direction for the most part feels very safe and doesn’t really take any risks, which feels like a missed opportunity as the scope was there to explore a dark side to the circus. The CGI for Dumbo is really well done and, as you would expect, Dumbo is completely adorable and above all else, in spite of the glittering array of talent in this cast, it’s this sweet little elephant that you find yourself rooting for the most, if only he had that little bit more screen time.

The cast try their hardest, but an indifferent script and the mismatch of tones prevent this live action re-imagining from soaring, but, thanks to the adorable titular elephant, it does get off the ground.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Incredibles 2 – Film Review

Cast:  Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener

Director: Brad Bird

Synopsis: With the world still distrustful of superheroes,  Elastigirl is recruited in a secret mission in order to win back the public’s trust, all the while Mr Incredible must manage their super-powered children.

Review: Cast your minds back to 2004, a time before superhero films were billion dollar cinematic universe juggernauts, cropping up here there and everywhere. like they do today. As such when the first Incredibles film debuted, it was released in a market nowhere near as competitive as it is today. Therefore how do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?  For returning writer/director Brad Bird, the answer is, stick to your guns.

Given the amount of time that has passed between the two movies being released, that a similar amount of time would have passed in the lives of the Parrs, thus putting a new  on the tale of this family. However, this this film dives straight back in, picking up pretty much almost immediately where the last film left off, with the family facing off against the dastardly Underminer.

All the while despite their heroism, superheroes are still illegal putting them in a tricky predicament. This is until a chance to win back the faith of the public opens itself up to Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). All the while Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson) must look after their 3 children, a task that is the trickiest of tests even for a superhero Dad. Teenage daughter temper tantrums, problems with homework, and a baby whose powers are frighteningly, but at the same time, hilariously unpredictable.

The real strength of this film lies in its action sequences, which are just as enthralling as those of its predecessor. What’s more, given that her role the first time around was not as front and centre as her husband. Seeing Elastigirl taking the lead role, is undeniably awesome to see. In the void that was left behind by Syndrome, the villain here is one who goes by the name of the Screenslaver, intensely critical of humanity’s incessant screen addiction. This is certainly an interesting plot thread but it is disappointingly not explored to the extent that you would have liked the film too, and given the sheer quality of a villain like Syndrome, the antagonist here is nowhere near as compelling as Syndrome was. Furthermore their motivations are a bit flimsy, and the direction they go in can be spotted from a mile off.

The film’s pacing is a little sluggish at times, but when the action is going down, it is extremely entertaining. Given Brad Bird made a Mission Impossible film, in between his Incredible endeavours, there is a strong MI vibe present here, and all the better for it. On top of that, with the central theme of the importance of the family definitely reinforced once again, it neatly ties itself in with the first film. There is no emotional gut punch that previous Pixar efforts such as Inside Out or Coco provided.

However, it more than makes up for that dearth of emotional drama. Given that the first film is regarded by many as being one of Pixar’s finest works, topping that was never going to be easy for Bird, but after such a long wait he delivers a sequel, that while is not as incredible as its predecessor, comes mighty damn close.

A long time in the making, but worth the wait to see this super family back in action, delivering superb action scenes and a great barrel of laughs along the way courtesy of baby Jack-Jack. Incredible by name, incredible by nature.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Coco (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Coco – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos

Directors: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

Synopsis: 12 year old Miguel strives to be a musician, but due to a tragic family past, his family won’t allow it. Undeterred, when he’s accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead, he seeks out his ancestor, who was himself a famous musician.

Review: It is perhaps a question that we as humans have been asking ourselves for as long as we have been around, what happen to us when we die? The belief in an afterlife is certainly extremely prevalent among certain cultures, perhaps most notably The Día de Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated in Mexico. It is on this premise that animation juggernaut Pixar uses as a backdrop for its latest feature film.

After a few sequels, the decision to focus on an entirely original concept is a welcome one, especially since the studio has arguably been at their best when focusing on original concepts (see Inside Out). At the centre of this new tale is Miguel, a young boy who has a passion for playing music. He is desperate to pursue this dream, but a terrible incident in his family’s past means that music is not welcome in his family, instead their focus is solely on their thriving business. Yet this doesn’t stop Miguel from his dreams. But in trying to accomplish these goals, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and is in a race against time to get back to the Land of the Living before it is too late.

The true power of music…

For a film that focuses on the afterlife, in which a considerable proportion of the cast are well dead people, seems unlikely to be family friendly material and is perhaps just a bit too macabre for the kids. However as they so often do, Pixar makes it all work an absolute treat. The story they construct is so beautifully told that once again, there are moments here that will tug on your heartstrings to such an extent that any audience member will find it hard to resist the urge to not have a quiet sob.

With Pixar you usually find some of the most beautiful animation to ever grace the big screen, and here they do so once again. The colours on display here are so vivid and just stunning to look at, and the animation feels so life like, that it brings all of the characters to life, whether they are living or if they have moved on. Miguel as our lead is immediately likeable, and despite the aggression he receives from his family for wanting to pursue music, he doesn’t take no for an answer, even when it looks like it will land him in a significant amount of bother.

Once again, Pixar has crafted a story works on two levels to tremendous for both the kids and adults. It explores themes such as love, family and what it means to have a dream, especially if you’re not encouraged to pursue these dreams. With another superb score from Michael Giacchino and what could well be another Oscar winning song in Remember Me from  Frozen duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. At this point, with their filmography brimming with so many beautifully told pieces of storytelling and animation, it is hard for any new release to take its place among the cream of the crop. However, Coco might just ensure it takes its place in that collection, as it is another string in Pixar’s guitar, that almost always hits the right notes.

Delivering animation of the highest quality once again, with another beautifully crafted story that tugs at the guitar strings and the heartstrings in equal measure. Another Pixar masterpiece.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story 3 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Ned Beatty, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, John Morris

Director: Lee Unkrich

Synopsis: With Andy now grown up and heading off to college, having not been played with for several years, the toys face a tricky decision, whether to remain in the attic or move on to pastures new, or more specifically: Daycare.

Review: When you have made two films, the first of which redefined the genre of animated movies, and then you followed that up with another supremely well made and heartfelt sequel that built so successfully on the world that its predecessor established, that is quite the feat. Therefore, when you decide to complete the trilogy, let’s just say that you have an almighty task ahead of you to try and top what came before it. Leave it then to the animation powerhouses Pixar to complete their Toy-tastic trilogy in tremendous style!

Toy Story 2 had quite the superb intro scene, but here they somehow top it with an incredible action scene of sorts that immediately reminds the audience that there is no limit to the imagination when it comes to a child and the toys they have, whilst immediately hitting you in the feels with the “You Got a Friend in Me!” tune, arguably one of the finest songs ever written for a Pixar film. Though Pixar continues to make their films that work on both levels, it’s evident that this is a film that is geared towards those grew up with the first two movies, as they more than others will relate to the feeling of growing up and having that dilemma of what to do with the toys you once cherished more than anything else in your life. Yet as time progresses, that undying love, just slowly just fades away.

Blissfully unaware of what’s coming…

Indeed, this is the very situation Andy finds himself in, what with being off to college and all. Despite a last ditch effort to get attention, Woody and the gang realise that maybe now is the time to find a new life for themselves or risk never getting played with ever again. through a mixture of unfortunate events sees the gang end up at a children’s daycare. Their excitement at a new lease of life quickly turns to horror though as these kids have a VERY different take on the word playtime, and life with Andy is a distant memory now.

In Michael Arndt’s capable hands, the screenplay continues down the path that the first two films walked down. The characters continue to be well developed and compelling, including all of the gang you know and love with a couple of significant new additions. These being a Ken doll (voiced brilliantly by Michael Keaton) and Ned Beatty as Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (AKA Lotso) who is the leader if you will of the Daycare. Smell of strawberries he might, but he’s not as sweet as he comes across. The humour is also maintained throughout the film with a truly hilarious moment in which Buzz is once again convinced he’s a Space Ranger, except he’s gone a bit European! The dialogue is all vintage Pixar and it’s simply joyous to watch.

Though the first two movies had plenty of emotion in them, there’s a couple of scenes here that really pack the emotion in such quantities that if it does not generate an emotional reaction among the watching audience, in which they’re fighting back the tears, one would have to question whether they are indeed human. Pixar films are littered with such moments, but two in particular here, might just be the best of the best. With a superb ending that continues to pack that emotional weight and one that wraps up this trilogy in just about the best way possible. Trilogies tend to have the one film that trips them up, but when a trilogy comes along, with each film being about as close to perfect as it could, that is a rare feat, and kudos to Disney and Pixar for pulling it off.

It’s been quite the journey with Woody, Buzz and co, but as third films in trilogies go, this is one of those rare films that is as good, if not better than what preceded it. Another masterpiece from the brain boxes at Pixar.

Posted in 2010-2019

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Image is property of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Film Review

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci,

Director: Bill Condon

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the story of a young woman who becomes the prisoner of a terrifying beast in a frightening castle, who’s running out of time to lift a terrible curse placed upon him…

Review:  When as a studio you have made an extremely successful bunch of animated films, many of which truly are timeless classics, where do you go from there? The answer is simple really, bring said classics back to the big screen by retelling them via the magic of live action movie making. For Disney Studios, that certainly is the plan and they’re certainly going full steam ahead. First came Maleficent,  then CinderellaThe Jungle Book, and now the tale as old as time has received the live action treatment. Disney’s 1991 animated classic is beloved by just about everyone with a pulse (probably) so the challenge facing the filmmakers cannot have been an easy one, but it is one that they rose to in magnifique style!

Given how beloved the animated version is, there’s much here that they have wisely decided not to alter with things too much. The story is essentially the same as the beautiful Belle, who’s not much liked by the other people in her sleepy little French village, except for Gaston (Evans) of course,  who lusts after her. However Belle’s feelings for Gaston are not mutual, understandable given he’s an extremely pompous idiot. But when Belle’s father ends up imprisoned by the Beast, she offers to take his place, and of course they fall in love in true Disney fashion. The script written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos does follow its predecessor for the most part, but does make the brave but inspired choice to add some new material, which adds just that little bit more depth to the story.

Watson really fits the role of Belle perfectly, she’s sweet, beautiful and certainly isn’t afraid to speak her mind when she has to. Dan Stevens also puts in a really solid performance as the eponymous Beast. His beastly appearance is achieved via motion capture and though is a little jarring to look at first, it is overall very well done, and when he needs to be scary, he certainly is scary, which may frighten some of the younger viewers. The leading duo certainly have the chemistry that is needed to ensure that this remake didn’t end up being a monstrosity of hideous proportions. The rest of the supporting cast is impeccably cast, Evans is tremendous as Gaston, with Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, and Ewan McGregor as the scene stealing Lumiere, and the CG for these guys is for the most part, really well done. The controversy surrounding Josh Gad’s LeFou has certainly generated a lot of attention, and though his character is obviously that way inclined, its not in-your-face in the slightest.

It wouldn’t be a Disney film without the music, and though there are a few new additions in terms of musical numbers, the standout (again) is Lumiere’s rendition of Be Our Guest. Watson too is able to hold her own on the musical side of things and though her versions of songs like Something There don’t quite match up to the versions performed in the animated predecessor, indeed all of the songs from said version are much better, but the tunes are more than pleasant to listen to. What is recaptured tremendously well is the magical nature of the story, which is no small part down to the gorgeous production design and set decoration by Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes too are just beautifully recreated and extremely award worthy. Sales of yellow dresses are likely to go through the roof!

Whatever inspired Disney and their mission to recreate their animated masterpieces into live action we may never know, but what we do know is they’re pulling it out of the bag time after time. The key job of a remake is to take a story that audiences are familiar with and breathe new life into said story, and while the animated feature is and will always be an animated masterpiece, this re-imagining of the tale as old as time, is certainly worth your time.

A charming and beautifully made retelling of a true animated classic that recaptures that magical fairytale feel to it, whilst breathing new life into these characters.